The 235.4mpg Vauxhall Ampera is an electric family hatchback, but one with unlimited range thanks to the on-board petrol range-extender. Here is our review following its Green Car Guide road test
Model/Engine size: Electric
Fuel: Electric with petrol range-extender generator
Fuel economy combined: 235.4 mpg
Green-Car-Guide rating: 10/10
Fully-electric cars such as the Nissan LEAF are here now, however they have a finite range, of around 100 miles, and when that range is reached, there’s no choice but to plug the car in to recharge it, for around eight hours from a domestic supply. This may work for a proportion of the population who live and commute relatively short distances in cities such as London, however it’s not ideal if you ever need to drive more than 100 miles.
Vauxhall believes it has a better solution in the form of the Ampera. The Ampera is an electric car at all times, but as well as a battery and electric motor, it also has a petrol generator on board. When the battery runs out of charge, the petrol generator simply starts up and powers the electric motor.
The Ampera is not a hybrid – it’s an extended-range electric vehicle ; an E-REV. It works in the opposite way to a hybrid. A hybrid, such as a Toyota Prius, is always predominantly powered by a petrol engine. It also has a battery and electric motor, but this just provides extra support to the petrol engine.
The idea is that you drive the Ampera on electric power only for as much of the time as you can. As our test showed, you could expect to drive it up to 50 miles as an EV, without any need to use the petrol generator. This range should allow the majority of people to travel from home to work and back again in one day, then plug in the car overnight (it just needs a four-hour charge time, which is likely to cost around £1) to provide a full battery charge for the next morning.
However if you need to drive more than 50 miles, you can; when the petrol generator kicks in, this will provide a total range of around 310 miles. It’s important to note that although the Ampera uses a 1.4-litre Ecotec petrol engine, the engine does not power the wheels directly – it just acts as a generator for the electric propulsion system. If you need to go even further than 310 miles, then you just fill the tank with more petrol. However, the idea is that you recharge the car as much as you can, to enable you to drive as far as possible on electric-only power.
The car has four driving modes . Most of the time, ‘normal’ will suffice. There’s also a ‘sport’ mode, which provides improved responses. There’s also a ‘mountain’ mode. This is, yes, you guessed it, for driving up mountains. Not the small hills that you get in the UK, but the sort of half-hour ascents you may find in the Alps or in America. If such ascents were tackled with just the petrol generator, then you would be likely to be short on power. Mountain mode aims to ensure that you benefit from maximum power from the combined petrol-electric powertrain, and the advice is to select this mode 15 minutes before you start an ascent so that the car can ‘prepare itself’.
Finally, there is a ‘hold’ mode. This doesn’t hold the car in EV mode – because it does this anyway – instead it holds the car in petrol-generator mode. The idea behind this is that if you are driving into a zero-emission zone – as areas in cities such as London may well become in the future – you can drive the car using the petrol range-extender as you head towards the city, so conserving the power in the battery, then you can drive on zero-tailpipe emission electric power for as much of the time as possible in the city.
So how does all this work in practice? We’ve already driven various prototypes of the Ampera, but this was the first chance to drive it over a longer distance using a combination of electric and petrol power.
The car was fully charged when we picked it up from Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport, and so it was operating as an electric vehicle on our first drive. As with most of the current crop of electric cars coming from the major manufacturers, the Ampera is quiet, smooth and refined, and there is 100% of its 370 Nm of torque available from standstill, so acceleration feels progressive.
In normal driving the Ampera steers, handles and brakes pretty much like any normal conventionally-powered family hatchback, even though the braking is carried out by the electric motor rather than by a traditional system under most braking conditions.
We covered 73 km, or 45 miles, on electric power only. We also had 11 km, or 7 miles, left in the battery. This gives a total of 84 km on electric-only range, which equates to 52 miles – which is pretty much on target with Vauxhall’s claims of 50 miles electric-only range. Vauxhall states that the electricity consumption is less than 16 kWh for 62 miles based on the NEDC test cycle.
The official economy figure for the Vauxhall Ampera is 235.4mpg over the NEDC test cycle, and 27g/km CO2 emissions. Be aware that the NEDC cycle test is only over a very short distance. And as with all electric cars, you need to remember that the Ampera is only genuinely zero emissions in electric mode if it is recharged with 100% renewable electricity .
As we continued the test, in due course the battery range dropped to zero and the petrol generator started up. The transition is smooth and it’s often quite hard to hear the engine cut in. However when driving with the generator in use, there is a very strange sensation with the engine revs. Most drivers will be accustomed to accelerating and hearing the engine revs rise directly in response to inputs on the accelerator pedal. However the revs in the Ampera often don’t relate to the input on the accelerator, because the petrol engine is acting as a generator for the electric system, rather than directly powering the wheels, so it doesn’t operate in the same rev range as a normal petrol engine. There’s not necessarily anything wrong with this, it’s just very different to all other cars that you’ll have driven.
Something else to be aware of is that the Ampera is a strict four-seater. This is due to the T-shaped battery pack running down the centre of the car and then under the rear seats. The car has been designed around its electric powertrain and with optimum aerodynamics in mind; it looks modern without being too unconventional. Inside, to operate many controls you just touch the appropriate area on the centre console rather than having a switch that physically clicks on and off.
Although the Ampera has a decent-sized 300-litre boot, or 1000-litres with the rear seats down, another quirky feature is the rear ‘parcel shelf’ – which is just a piece of thin material stretched across the top of the boot space.
If you’re considering buying the Ampera, then you also need to be aware of its price: £28,995, after the £5000 UK government plug-in car grant. This is a lot for a family hatchback, but this is ground-breaking technology, and running costs will be low. It will be subject to just five per cent company car taxation as well as zero Vehicle Excise Duty, and it will be exempt from the London congestion charge.
Although the Ampera is ideal for drivers in London, you will need a garage or off-road parking to be able to plug in the car to recharge it.
There is an eight-year, 100,000 mile guarantee on the battery system in addition to Vauxhall’s lifetime / 100,000 mile warranty.
Finally, just in case you’re getting excited about the Ampera, although the car is being built in left-hand drive form for introduction into Europe this year, the car will not be available to buy in the UK until April 2012.
The Vauxhall Ampera is a family hatchback that you can drive up to 50 miles without any need for petrol, you can go as far as you want on its range-extender engine, and it officially achieves 235.4mpg. It’s also perfectly acceptable to drive.
Therefore how can we award the Vauxhall Ampera any less than a Green Car Guide rating of 10 out of 10?
It may be more expensive than other family hatchbacks, but even at £28,995 (after the £5000 UK government plug-in car grant), the Ampera is likely to be in high demand from businesses and other organisations which need to demonstrate a lower carbon fleet. If private buyers are prepared to spend this amount, they are likely to be delighted about their reduced reliance on petrol stations, whilst maintaining their mobility without any range anxiety.
Fuel economy extra urban: N/A
Fuel economy urban: N/A
CO2 emissions: 27g/km
Green rating: VED band A – first year £0
Weight: 1732 Kg
Company car tax liability (2011/12): 5%
Price: £28,995 (after £5000 UK government plug-in car grant)
Insurance group: TBC
Power: electric 150 PS / petrol 86 PS
Max speed: 100 mph (limited)
0-62 mph: 9.0 seconds
• Read our Vauxhall Astra ecoFLEX review